Phillipa Soo Opens Up About CBS' 'The Code' and a Possible 'Hamilton' Movie (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Jim Spellman/Getty Images
Phillipa Soo is stepping into the military world.
Since her breakthrough role in Lin-Manuel Miranda's blockbuster musical, Hamilton, as Schuyler sister, Eliza, Soo has starred in two major Broadway shows (Amelie, The Parisian Woman) and dabbled in film (Moana). In CBS' military drama The Code, the Tony-nominated theater veteran gets top billing alongside co-stars Dana Delany, Luke Mitchell (Blindspot) and Anna Wood (Reckless)as Lieutenant Harper Li, a highly capable, hyper-organized and fierce lawyer whose ability to compartmentalize and prioritize makes her an asset to the team. But her youthful motivation (and naivete) could be the key to her downfall.
"I definitely think that the more you get the experience of being in front of the camera, the easier it gets. But I've actually found a lot of joy being on set, not only understanding how my job works, but getting to know how everybody else's job works, and in turn, that helps me do my job better," Soo, 28, tells ET of her transition from stage to screen. "It's been a great learning experience. It's been full of discoveries and it's a medium that I really enjoy working in and I'm so glad to be a part of it."
Ahead of Tuesday's series premiere of The Code, ET spoke with Soo about her latest role, if she has plans to return to the stage any time soon and updates on a potential Hamilton movie.
ET: You've done TV before with the musical drama Smash. The Code, however, is a completely different type of role for you. How did the character of Harper Li come about for you?
Phillipa Soo: I went in a couple of times and read for the role of Harper. And really what sold me on the idea of being a part of this amazing project was talking to our amazing writer, Craig Sweeny, our showrunner -- and getting to know a little bit about what his ideas for these characters were. It's so hard getting a raw script to really see what it's going to be, especially since you only get one episode. So getting to understand Harper's full journey became really exciting to me, because she definitely takes a lot of turns in her journey in being a judge advocate.
Is there a personality trait of Harper's that made you think, "I really identify with this," or is she so completely opposite from who you are that you felt like this is going to be fun to channel?
I think she takes herself a little bit more seriously than I do as Phillipa Soo. I'm definitely inspired by Harper's desire and drive to prove herself in this job. She comes from a family of lawyers, and instead of joining the family firm, she decided to join the corps. She comes from privilege, and I think it's a great side to see of someone who wants to join the military because they feel a need to serve their country. That is essentially what drives her. I think it's part of her inner conflict, because she has this life back home full of people who might not necessarily understand why she made the decision that she did. But she's very resolute. I think that part of her journey is understanding how to manage and maintain your personal life and the life you might've had before joining the corps, and then the life that you have in the corps and the values that you take with you as you experience working on these cases. There are a lot of twists and turns for her in her personal journey.
Because The Code is a military drama, the show naturally tackles some intense subjects. How did you and your co-stars toe that line on set?
We definitely tackle a lot of very serious cases ranging from assault to other violations, to murder, among other things. And the show really looks into the issues that affect the military today and examines them. They're complicated. They're not black and white. But there's a lot of great acting happening, and we're fully committed to telling the weight of these stories. At the same time, it is entertaining. These are real people. They have senses of humor, so that does come out in the script in little places. It's not all serious all the time. I think what's so great about Craig's writing is that we really see the humans that are living within this military world -- and the fact that they're Marines is what binds them all together.
But they're all very different, coming from different experiences, and that mirrors the group of us six actors. As these judge advocates, we're all very different, coming from different experiences and learning about the military world together has been a bonding experience. Of course, the beauty of our set is that we have some extremely talented people who are also kind and funny and hilarious. We always have a good laugh on set. We're never wanting for entertainment when we're not working. Nobody's ever bored. We're always working super hard and, at the same time, enjoying each other, enjoying the process, enjoying the challenges of making a show like this.
When you're doing theater, you get to chart the full progress of a character's arc in a couple of hours each night. On TV, that journey can take years. Has that been a change for you, not knowing where Harper's story is going?
Everything is scaled down a little bit, not in terms of the energy that you bring, but in terms of the pieces that you see onscreen; the storytelling moments are much more delicate in some ways. It's different, in terms of stamina, but in terms of the storytelling and the authenticity of the stories that we want to tell, it all stems from the same place. Instead of a big stage, you've got a screen. Instead of a live audience, you've got an audience watching you on their televisions at their home. Remembering that it all stems from the same place is helpful because you want to make sure that you're staying true to the stories of these people and these people's stories and that's really what, at least, I strive to do.
You're also working with Dana Delany. What has the on-set camaraderie been like among the main cast throughout filming?
Getting to work with Dana Delany is definitely a highlight for me. She's had and has such an amazing career, but she's also such a genuine and self-assured human being. Getting to know her has been a lot of fun. Of course, we've got Anna [Wood] and Luke [Mitchell] and Ato [Essandoh] and Raffi [Barsoumian] and I; we're a bunch of misfits altogether. We deeply respect each other's work, which is why I think we're all very much in tune with each other. That's why we have a productive set, because we've got such a great balance of work and play and respecting when other people need time.
Are you planning on watching or is that comfortable for you?
It's not always the most comfortable, but I'm intrigued because I want to see the product of what we worked so hard to make. But I've seen snippets here and there. I haven't seen a full episode yet, but I'm eager because there's some really great acting happening -- and not only for me. I'm really excited to cheer on my cast, my company, and really just be there standing in the ... I'd say standing in the wings, but that's definitely a theater term. Standing in front of my couch, in front of my television, and cheering them on.
Will we see you back on stage soon in a new play or musical?
Yeah. I'd love to have the ability to be in a play and then go shoot something. It's a very dreamy actor life, and I'm still lucky right now that I have this experience -- that I can say that I've done both. But the theater is home and it's where I started and I'll keep coming back to it. Being a part of a wonderful TV [or] film set like this just adds to the feeling of how lucky I am to be in the city working and doing what I love.
There has been a lot of talk about a Hamilton movie over the years. Have you heard anything from Lin-Manuel Miranda about your place in that should something move forward? Would you like to reprise your role as Eliza Schuyler for the big screen?
I know they definitely have some sort of plan. Obviously, there's been whisperings of it all over town, but I'm not sure exactly how much I'm allowed to tell you, unfortunately. But what I can say is that the creative team, when they do something, they want to do it right and they want to do it well. And so I don't doubt that whenever it happens, it will be amazing.
The Code premieres Tuesday, April 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.